In the Summer of 2018 I attended a theatre piece called ‘What If I Told You’ written and performed by a fellow artist Pauline Mayers, a trained dancer, writer and performer, talking about the anatomy of the black female body, pain and the lack of empathy or outright apathy among white medical institutions and individuals during and after the transatlantic slave trade when discussing the black body.
In the Q&A a middle aged white lady in the audience made a statement heard all to often, “I don’t see colour, I see the person.
“I raised my hand and responded, assuring her “we want you to see us, that includes our colour.”
A common narrative amongst many of those who don’t ‘see colour’ is to repeatedly state ‘we’re all one human race’ or ‘race is a social construct’. It is a widely accepted fact today that the concept of race is believed to have been constructed by racist European scientists, something the late W.E.B Du Bois argued 100 years ago when he claimed race was being used as a biological explanation to understand social and cultural differences, of course this was either disproved by yet more proponents of Eugenics or just dismissed as an unpopular view. However, merely calling something a ‘social construct’ does not mean racism loses its power. Gordon Hodson writes in his article ‘Race as a Social Construction’, “Marriages are social constructions, but they have serious legal, cultural, and interpersonal implications.” In applying this logic to the issue of race, we can then conclude that stating something is essentially man made as opposed to natural, does not then absolve it from the fact that the atrocities and genocides which have occurred in recent human history as far back as the last few centuries have been and still are based on ‘race’ and skin colour, exacerbated by the hegemonic practices of Europeans, be it scientists, the elite or even the royal family through British imperialism and colonialism.
To accept the existence of racism and white privilege and the fact we are not simply all one human race, is to accept that history does indeed inform the present, that past systems of institutionalised preference of one group over another are still in effect today complimented by a racist, Eurocentric gaze through which our current curriculum is taught, beginning at primary education right up until higher education in universities, further taught by racist academics in the form of pseudoscience and ‘history’.
I refer to a recent example, the Oxford University project, ‘Ethics and Empire’, led by Professor Nigel Biggar who was accused by fellow academics of defending the British empire and colonialism. He claims the British empire was actually not unethical or wicked as it has been painted by historians because the empire “suppressed the Atlantic and African slave-traders after 1833” and “granted black Africans the vote in the Cape colony seventeen years before the USA granted it to African Americans”. Biggar further intended to use the results of the project to “develop a nuanced and historically intelligent Christian ethic of empire.”Another controversial name in recent academic circles is Dr Noah Carl, a Professor at the University of Cambridge, accused of racist pseudoscience for publishing papers of an Islamophobic and anti immigrant nature, many which have supposedly then been redistributed by far right movements. In one paper titled ‘New Opposition to Immigrants Of Different Nationalities Correlates Strongly With Their Arrest Rates In The UK’ he concludes stereotypes about the criminality of certain immigrant groups in the UK are “quite accurate” and makes further references to countries of ‘low average IQ’.
In another paper titled ‘A Global Analysis Of Islamist Violence’ he claims “it seems plausible that the higher the percentage of Muslims in the population, the greater the share of citizens susceptible to Islamist radicalisation, and therefore the larger the fraction of the population that the security services should need to monitor.”
It is important to consider the fact that the general public do not read or have access to scholarly articles and may not engage with the academics displaying such problematic attitudes and biased mind-sets. When left unchecked, this dominantly racist and biased view will gradually merge with and start to form a part of the everyday education in these institutions.
These recent findings further perpetuate the belief that some of the worlds ‘finest’ institutes are indeed white spaces where the elite bask in the glory of whiteliness, operating internally as microcosms of our society although externally we are presented with the mask of ‘liberalism’ and ‘activism’, the latter being one which comes with its own problems.
If we consider Feminism, a worldwide movement which serves as a platform for women of all ages and backgrounds, we see even today activists of colour report a constant silencing of non White women or complete rejection of their lived experiences. African American poet, novelist and Civil Rights activist Alice Walker grew tired of mainstream feminism stepping all over them therefore created a new term, Womanism, to serve as a platform for women of color and primarily to resist Anti-blackness within the feminist movement.
Mainstream feminism, widely dominated by the white European narrative, often silences and rejects cultural differences amongst fellow women, instead pushing an Eurocentric view of how a female is supposed to be perceived, so in many cases, the hijab is automatically a tool of oppression from which Muslim women need to be saved.
Khadijah Patel, Chief editor of South African newspaper Mail & Guardian published an article in which she talked about her experience with feminism whilst maintaining her identity as a Muslim women wearing hijab, she claims “When women deny the agency of other women in service of patriarchy — and in the name of feminism — it is not only offensive. It is deeply oppressive.”
Many feminists like Khadijah are often then presented with the job of explaining their culture and why they are not being oppressed as if the yoke of being ‘othered’ due to their appearance was not enough, they are then made to break down ignorance and confusion, even though ignorance, prejudice and racism is the white feminists problem.
If we dig further into the oblivion of whiteliness and not ‘seeing colour’, we are presented with outright racist ideologies operating within our politics, the media and everyday life where people of colour are subjected to an array of misnomers based on attributes such as their names, appearance, religious affiliations and dare we say it, race, many times in situations where the race of the individual concerned was irrelevant. Suddenly we are presented with a situation where white people who claim to not see colour, do, and they exercise this dominance over non whites whilst maintaining they are not indeed receptors of white privilege, often using class and monetary factors as an excuse to reject this notion.
White people choose to see colour when they want and this is the highest form of privilege.